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Japan, China Try to Thaw Diplomatic Chill


Talks under way in Tokyo between Japanese and Chinese officials are aimed at warming ties, chilled by the Japanese prime minister's repeated visits to a war-related shrine. The Saturday session will try to thaw the chill even further, by moving to a hot springs resort.

This is the fourth round of the comprehensive policy discussions between Japan and China since May of last year. There has been no such meeting since October, when a session was held in Beijing.

Since then, ties between the two Asian neighbors have remained chilly, due largely to China's dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. The shrine honors Japan's war dead, including a number of war criminals from the second World War.

China says the shrine visits are insensitive, in view of the aggression committed by Imperial Japan during the first half of the 20th Century. South Korea has also called the visits insensitive.

Japan is attempting to keep the current round of discussions low key, releasing few details. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi says that is necessary in order to preserve the proper mood.

"It is basically a closed-door meeting," said the spokesman. "The press is not allowed to see what's happening. In order to maintain the atmosphere, in order to maintain the spirit, in which they can talk freely, without any constraint, I should refrain from making any other comment."

The Japanese delegation is led by Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi. Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo heads the Chinese delegation.

While spokesmen in both Tokyo and Beijing have been silent about the contents of the discussions, Japanese media say Tokyo wants to pave the way for dialogue between Prime Minister Koizumi and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The media here are reporting that the talks will also likely cover the impasse over China's natural gas exploration in the East China Sea. Japan contends that the project may be sucking undersea resources from Japan's maritime economic zone.

After Friday evening's session in Tokyo, the bilateral meeting is expected to move to a rural hot springs resort. Japanese officials say the discussions can be held in a more relaxed atmosphere there.